Sierra Leone charges 14 soldiers with mutiny

FREETOWN Mon Apr 14, 2014 6:52pm EDT

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FREETOWN (Reuters) - A Sierra Leone military court has charged 13 soldiers and a captain with mutiny and denied them bail, a judge said on Monday, eight months after they were arrested for planning a protest against the president.

The men, who all pleaded not guilty, were arrested last August in the northern town of Makeni for planning a protest during a visit by President Ernest Bai Koroma to his hometown.

Local media said at the time the soldiers had intended to kidnap the president and murder the defense minister during the visit, which was later canceled.

This account has not been independently verified and details of the event leading up to the soldiers' arrests were not addressed in court on Monday.

"In the interest of public safety and the safety of the accused persons themselves, bail is refused," said Judge Otto During, adding the risk of flight was another factor behind the decision.

If found guilty, the men could face a range of punishments from demotion in rank to death by firing squad.

A Reuters witness at the trial said the group looked healthy and relaxed and several of them waved and smiled to friends and family members present.

Soldiers have complained of low wages and inadequate housing in the West African country, which is struggling to emerge from the 1991-2002 civil war. But protests against President Koroma, who won a second term in a 2012 election, are rare.

(This version of the story was corrected to fix spelling of president's surname to Koroma, not Koromo, throughout.)

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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